Race in America: The Invisible Hand of the Implicit Mind

With Anthony Greenwald, co-author of Blindspot: The Hidden Biases of Good People

Over the remainder of this century, judgements about the prominence and impact of race in American society will need to take into account a series of recent critical events. The outright social rebellions in Ferguson and Baltimore, the racially motivated massacre in Charleston, and the ever-continuing series of unarmed black men, women, and children being killed by the police will continue to have important ramifications. The shocking truth is that these events have occurred while the residents of the White House were an African American family. Once, undisguised expressions of prejudice and racial antagonism were rife throughout American society, but since the Civil Rights Era racial vitriol has virtually withered away.

Today only a small minority of Americans endorse any form of anti-black sentiment. If old-fashioned racism is clearly not a viable cause, why are outcomes for Blacks increasingly worse than those for Whites in so many important many dimensions of life? And why is the current state of affairs in race relations—epitomized by policing, incarceration, and unemployment—viewed so differently by Black Americans and White Americans?

I believe that some important answers to these questions can be found in the unconscious biases that the great majority of us unknowingly carry with us. In their new book, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People

, Dr. Anthony Greenwald, professor of social psychology at the University of Washington and Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, a Yale University social psychologist, share the results of 30 years of psychological research to provide a deeper understanding of our current racial gaps.

According to their research, otherwise “good” people who wouldn’t ever consider themselves to be racist, sexist, ageist, etc, nevertheless, have hidden biases about race, gender, sexuality, disability status, and age. These biases come from a part of the mind that functions automatically and efficiently, and does its work outside our conscious awareness. If asked if we held these beliefs or attitudes, we would often disown them, but they nonetheless have a powerful and pervasive impact on our decisions and behavior.

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